Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 77 Pictures--

Day 77-- Bear--Blue Ice, Brown Water

Wednesday is my last full day in the field, and of couse, a bear shows up on the ride out. He/she was on the beach about half way out, we stopped and Issac and JR hazed himn into the water. Got some decent pictures of him on the crest of the beach ridge. Seemed to be about 5', a teenager, not full grown. Got most of another burial excavated up by Anne's honda, the wind was so bad--about 25 MPH, gusting to 35---we put two hondas together with a large tarp to form a windbreak. Excavated him/her till about 3PM --looks to be another 12 yr old +or- 2 years, second molars are erupted but with no wear at all. Took a break at lunch and went down to the shore to get some picures of brown waves breaking over blue ice. Issac was kind enough to take some pictures of me in front of the ice with the brown waves breaking over them. I remember standing there smiling broadly thinking this is a good place to be at a good time--it just all felt right--The pictures look great, I don't remember looking or feeling so confident and relaxed, comfortable and in charge, in front of natural chaos. That will be my signature picture.
Wrapped up early so we could get to the Post Office so a lot of us could mail packages back. Said good-bye to everyone on Thursday morning as they left for the point.
Unfinished thoughts--
Lying on the bluff stretched out with my arm extended to take a transit shot and support the stadia rod--with the wind directly head-on so I can't even hear the radio--watching the gulls dive into the waves and pluck 3" long Tomcod out of the crest of the incoming waves. there is a line of about 20 of them just hovering in the wind fishing a school of them--Where did they learn that behavior? I've never heard of them being that patient and organized. Anne telling the story of the killer whales at Seaworld learning how to catch seagulls by retaining one of their herring treats and spitting it up into the air and if a gull took the bait and came in for it, snatching the gull off the water. They have taught three generations of them how to do that--again a behavior not seen in the wild.
If you close your eyes, you listen to the surf and it sounds exactly like the surf in Hawaii or California but it isn't--this has chunks of sea ice in it, and a 25 MPH cold wind in your face--I love it! It feels like work that is not only worthwhile but worth the time and effort to accomplish it. It fits me naturally, like a glove--There is a feeling of power, like gearing up for hockey, putting on all the layers and accroutments to do the job and them striding out to do it--there is no whining or complaining in archaeology.
Striding across the gravel, I'm gripped by the image of standing in the surf in Hawaii and watching your toes disappear in the sand and if you stand there longer, your feet and your ankles and calves sink in also. I get the feeling that if you stand still in the gravel the same thing will happen,first your boots, then your ankles and calves will disappear and pretty soon you'll become another dark organic stain in the gravel, like the ones we excavate. Best to keep moving.
I'll miss the approachability of the people here, not only the researchers but also the natives and residents. You can walk up to anyone, introduce yourself and strike up a conversation. People make eye contact here and are willing to engage and respond--that is a different experience from the lower world.
I like it here, I feel comfortable--and, dare I say it--Happy--

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 75 pictures

Day 75--2 to go--Barges, Bluff Burial and Real Estate

Winding down now , day 75 with only two days to go--at day 77 it will be exactly 11 weeks, seems much shorter--the rythym of working hard and long for 5 days and off for 2 has become comfortable--The cold is always a factor as is the wind but if you gear up properly you can get adapted pretty quickly --nobody whines, no one complains, you just do what needs to be done.
Today I found myself hanging headfirst off the 15" bluff excavating a 12 year old that had partially tumbled out of the bluff face, when the melting permafrost caused the bluff to slump. there was not much too him/her--Skull partial mandible, partial pelvis and 2 unfused femurs, fibula,and 1 phalange. Took only about an hour and a half to get him out but David and I had to lay on our stomachs to spread out the weight so the bluff would not crumble and take him and us with him.
Worked on finishing up two other partial burials and got them completed, and may try to finish another one tomorrow. The driftwood feature is slowly winding down with a terminus line marked in the gravel(literally) that we won't go beyond. Passed the 2000 mark in number of items recorded. with a decent number showing working by humans.
The first barge of the season arrived today, and started to offload. everyone is heading to the Napa gas station to fill up cars, gas cans and 55 gallon drums with the "cheap" $4.55 gallon gas because they know what is coming--the fuel barge arrives and the price for the entire next year is set--the anticipation is between $7-8.00 per gallon, maybe more. The barge is basically a small container ship with those 20' X10' containers loaded on deck. There is a small LST type ship that ferries the containers and other goods to shore. see the attached pictures. All of the lumber, building supplies, prefab houses, cars, trucks, heavy equipment arrives this way.
Real estate--I'll try to add some pictures of real estate, the blue house sold for $250K, the little green one is for sale at $72K. the empty lot with the posts is the beginning of construction. You buy the land from UIC, plant the permafrost posts, wait a year to see if they are solid and order your building materials to arrive on next summer's barge and start building. If you decide to sell you have to offer it back to UIC who has first right of refusal, at market prices. Most new permits are granted near the Barrow Utilidor, which carries water, sewage, fiber optic lines in an underground heated tunnel. They will hook you up for free but you have to pay an ongoing maintaince fee, plus the cost of the utilities. the other option is septic and water cistern with daily water delivery.
More later--pictures to follow.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Day 70 pictures

Day 70---Bear, Bears and more Bears

Weather has held steady this week, 30-35 degrees, some wind, some fog, mostly overcast but when the sun does come out it truly is glorious--Blue sky, blue ocean white ice, the pack ice has moved back in. we've had new bear guards the last few days, brothers, Issac and J.R.--they have been taking me out at lunch breaks and showing/teaching me how to spot bear tracks, not too difficult truly, most of the pictures this time are bear tracks which i thought most people would enjoy. Today there were tracks of three distinctly different bears, both by size and shape, i tried to shoot them to give boyj a feel of size and stride. The other picture is of David trying to paddle a small ice floe with a shovel--the kids get bored at lunch--as Issac sais "Silly white boy!" We're winding down now, Christine and I are working on what should be the last burial, looks like a young adult > 16 for sure. We had a new dental exturn out with us this week, helped to finish off the last of the dentition xrays, and came out to the site with us. She worked on our burial and was thrilled to find two teeth--
The driftwood feature is starting to shape up, they are up to 1500 objects shot in and probably will hit 2000 before next week wraps up the season, that is an unheard of number of objects for a 5M X 3M site. A piece of baleen showed up today, about 12" long that-- should not be there either, way to early for anyone to be harvesting whales by about 600 years--BUT could have been washed in on the driftline. Season is winding down, just 1 week to go--I'll post more soon, trying to wrap up some other issues I've been thinking about including real estate prices up here...enjoy--

Friday, August 1, 2008

Day 65--Have I Mentioned its Fracking Cold Up Here??

We've been kinda cruising through the summer, work wise, , and really haven't had much in the way of brutal weather--its always "chilly" but not un-doable or brutally cold, just gear up properly and you'll be fine but the last 3 days have been fracking COLD!! We had Tues, Wednesday in the lab and Thrusday they gave us the day off,totally--I lobbyied hard to have us go out to the point and at least check out the site on Friday, which drew more than a few nasty looks and one "You've moved to the top of my hit list!!"
See the pictures above to see what we saw on Friday morning, It is Fracking August 1st!! I know you guys down in California are *suffering* under 80 degree temps and no rain or wind, we, on the other hand have 31 degrees, 20-30MPH winds and fracking snow, not just a few flakes, but snow that stuck and gave us the situation you see above. I'll try to include more than the regulation 5 pictures the blog allows me to show the effects of the snow and erosion since last Monday, if i put two that have basically the same view , one is Monday and the second is Friday. The sea/pack ice moved back in and actually ptotected the shoreline to some degree. There are Gray Whales playing off the point. There were also frozen jellyfish on the beach this morning some up to 15" across. Once we got out there and took of the frozen tarp from the site, with its frozen 3" of ice all over it, the day went quickly and we got a lot done. We are all concentrated on the driftwood feature for the rest of the season, #1--because it is important, #2--the first winter storm will more than likely totally remove it, so this truly becomes a salvage project, with the goal to get out as much as possible and try to figure out what is going on, archaeologically. We know that it is a mixture of classic driftline, with storm tossed debris, BUT we also know that there was extensive human activity here AND it's old. The down side is that there is 1 1/2 meters of gravel covering everything, which is about ten billion tons and no heavy equipment to move it.
We're finding faunal remains, mainly caribou and seal, and birds; gut from seals(go figure how that preserves, but it does) coal,Worked wood, with toolmarks and obvious human intended usage, and hundreds of pieces of undiagnosable wood fragments ranging from 2' logs to tiny cottonwood bark fragments. We've shot in and recorded over 1100 pieces so far, and that does not count the "bucket shots" that gives a single designation to a 50CM circle and you pick up everything there and put them all in their own bag. Every individual numbered piece/artifact gets its own bag and if it's wood (98% is) it gets wrapped in tin foil. We've bought every roll of Reynold's Heavy Duty in Barrow--amounted to over $300 (Barrow prices)--Last friday Laura had a 1000 artifact cake made to commerate the event--we didn't actually hit it until Monday but still, for one 3M X 5M area it is a staggering number and the suprising thing is that it is nowhere near close to being done, every scrape of a trowel or brush of a brush brings up more. I'm currently working on a log that may or may not be a foundation piece, raw material or just plain driftwood-- who knows? It's about 10" in diameter and I've got 4' revealed with no end in sight--keep in mind that it is frozen fast in permafrost.

All in all a good day--only 10 burials so far, but the focus has changed to the driftwood as the burial area seems safe for the time being. Enjoy the pictures, be well, and quit complaining about how hot it is down there!
Lois--that last pair of gloves you sent me has saved me--I brought 7 pair with me and 3 have been trashed so far--that last good pair is my last good pair, the rest , which are essential are liners or lighter weight--Thanks for thinking of me--Matt's jacket is still the best of the 5 layers I routinely wear--

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 62 --Just anothe rDay in Paradise Pictures

Day 62--Just Another Day in Paradise

Variable weather!!
July 22--cold, windy with a few snow showers--no big deal--
July 25--wind so strong it picks up the gravel like shotgun pellets
July 27--Beautiful sunny day, temps in the 50's, basking in the sun like lizards--
July 28--Regular day at the point, cold, windy but do-able
July 29--the first "Snow Day" of the season, Wind at 30 MPH, temp at 34--looking out my window the snow is horizontal and the wind is picking up--snow and wind predicted for the rest of the week--We were in lab today, and for the first time, ran out of stuff to do and sent the kids home aqt 12:30. Ws are completely caught up with the backlog of artifacts from 2006, 2007, thoudands of pounds of peat and we were processing artifacts today we removed on Monday. There are whitecaps on our little lagoon. I'm anxious to see how much damage the driftwood feature has suffered. When we left on friday, there was a small 3' high beach ridge of sand and gravel between us and the surf line. and the beach line was 12-15 feet from the rear edge of the pit. On Monday the beach ridge was gone and the surf line was 4-5' from the back edge of the pit with some of the larger waves lapping at the edge right below us--the more startling thing was to see the permafrost jutting out from the bluff about 2' below us and the waves undercutting it by a good 3-5'. that section of bluff will just collapse and disappear. We had located and flagged the peat location with tundra and peat earlier in the season, it was startling to see a piece of the tundra come floating by with a pin flag stuck in it. I'm going to try to find a picture of the site earlier when we first opened it up and contast that with one taken Monday.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 60 Pictures

Day 60--The Mother of All Test Pits

We've spent most of the week digging the mother of all test pits, see the picture or pictures I've posted. this one is 15 meteres X 4 meteres X 1 1/2 meteres, even accounting for the slumps on the sides which are inevitable, we still figure we excavated 60 cubic meteres of gravel. This is no small feat. The idea was to see how far the driftwood feature extended back from the bluff, we dug it about 10 meters from the back edge of the driftwood feature, so there is a 6-7 meter berm between the two, which also may have to go or we can expand it to the sides going east and west--we'll see.
Mostly the weather has been, as they say, variable. For all the days except Wed, it was cold, cloudy or foggy, and windy. Wednesday was beautiful, 40-45 sunny, little or no wind, got a good shot of Adam napping on his Honda. We've been using the Honda's as loading platforms, to haul away buckets of gravel, 3 on the back, 3 on the front and one in each foot well, each bucket weights about 50+ pounds, maybe even 60-70 depending on how full they are so the Honda's are hauling 400+ pounds on each load.
Thursday was spent mostly excavating 2 faux burials, vegatative mounds, that usually indicate burials but in this case weren't--Friday, I spent in the lab with two folks from the dental clinic who brought over their portable X-Ray machine and we tried to take x-rays of the available excavated burials with dentition. Out of the potential 26 burials, we got 4 done, the learning curve got pretty steep for awhile, and we'll see if any useful information actually gets produced. Problems were, bringing the pediatric film instead of the adult film, having only one box of film, 75, which we used up on the four burials, aiming the x-ray gun at the mandible with the full box of x-ray film right behind it, possibly exposing the unexposed film, setting the angle of the gun so Vera was sitting in the direct line of fire, etc. The conditions at the point were(I was told) very cold, and they two PI's in charge were guageing the wind strength with a portable anamometer at 22MPH and decided if it picked up to 35 MPH, it was quitting time, as at 35 the gravel gets picked up by the wind and acts like shotgun pellets whipping across the landscape. Got a decent picture of Angelique who is one of the elders in residence here who makes masks out of caribou skin, wolf fur, seal fur etc, marvelous pieces of native art.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 53 pictures

Day 53--3 days at the point

We spent the last three days at the point doing the usual archaeological stuff. I've been working in the area we have labled the fox den since that is what once lived there. the area is 7 metres X 6 meters and were working an alternate checkerboard pattern with the intent of removing it all eventually. the top 3-6" is covered with thick turf that is a mother to cut through. The trowels up here are honed to a razors edge, so that helps and then we cut through the last 1 or 2 inches with a shovel. If you are careful you can peel back the turf, saving it to replace later and most of the artifacts, faunal bones, bone chips and whalebone + human bones are either on the surface or imbredded in the last inch or so of roots. Thrus at lunch we were sitting on the leeward side of the tent to get out of the wind when the kids strolled around the side and plunked down a 60 pound seal that had gotten caught in a fishing net and drowned. Protocal says it has to be offered to the owner of the net and he decides disposition.
Friday was different story altogether. We left for the point at 9AM on friday and got back at 2:40 AM on saturday, your basic 17 hour workday. There was a significant non-burial find made at 3PM which dictated that we stay until it was removed.Due to its composition and fragility it simply could not remain exposed to weather and potential destruction over the weekend. We've all been sworn to secrecy so I can't say more than that until later.
Saturday we were all pretty useless due to the previous workday(s)and today, sunday , not a lot better but better than saturday. Tomorrow we are back out at the point for the week, weather for those who follow that stuff, is 35-40 degrees, with a 15-20MPH wind and rain/snow predicted for the entire week. snow is not a problem, rain is.
Pictures this time are me and Denver banding snowy owl chicks (eat your heart out Sarah!) the seal mentioned above, Kyle with the seal strapped to the honda and someones idea of a joke, a fox trap baited with a peppermint, HA!! it would take at least a bottle of beer to be effective!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 49 Snowy Owls & Skinning a Caribou with a Spam Lid

Today was Snowy Owl day, Frank and I finally hooked up with Denver to go out and monitor and band some snowy owl chicks. He had mercy on me/us and took us out to two nests that are "close" in--He covers 100 square miles of territory with 30 nests, mostly on foot, some of which is accessable by 4 wheeler, but mostly on foot. These nests are a long ways apart, at least 1 mile usually 2-3 miles to give the pair a decent hunting territory. they feed on lemmings, and they kill the lemmings and leave them whole for the chicks, which either eat them whole or if they are little, the parents, will tear them apart so the chicks can swallow the parts whole and then regurigate the bones and fur as a pellet. They are suprising passive as they are approached, the parents are also very tolerant, the female usually sits about 40 yards off and watches, the males tend to do flyovers and dive bombing runs, sometimes actually clobbering the researchers from behind. If anyone thinks these guys are small;, take a look at the picture of Lauren with a female snowy that is earth bound because she molted too many feathers. We checked two nests and banded 4 out of 6 chicks in one nest and 4 out of 5 in the other. It was something we both wanted to do and I'm glad we did.
Lewis Brower was in the lab today talking about his fater who is 86 and out fishing --getting about 40 whitefish a day, and expecting to get about 150 a day in august. The stuff you learn by keeping your ears open and just listening to the kids talk amoung themselves is wonderful--Every alaskan citizen can kill 5 caribou a day, A DAY!! Kyle was telling David about him and a couple of friends, killing a caribou and then discovering that no one had a knife to gut and skin it--they sat there debating what to do until they got hungry and opened a can of spam for lunch and Shazam!! figured they could gut and skin it with the Spam lid, which they did --You can't make this stuff up even if you tried. Krista was asking Kyle if he had any polar bear claws he was willing to sell and for how much, while bebating the price, he let ship it was a bear he had killed when he was 13--
There are 7 divers and 2 bear guards going down to expore the Point Franklin site where 31 whalers were trapped in the ice, crushed and sank in about 1875--they are being helicoptered in and Anne gave the task of coming up with the shopping list to David and Kyle, Camp food for 7 people for 14 days, ended up being about 300 pounds of food, with debates amoung the kids and adults as to what would work and what wouldn't refigeration is no problem, simply dig a hole and put it in--it'll keep just fine.
We'll be in the field tomorrow, working on Clare's driftwood feature, hopefully it won't rain--we've been in the lab for the last couple of days, so it'll be nice to get back out--check the pictures--

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 46 pictures

Day 46-I'm Back in Barrow Again--

I was trying to come up with a clever title and the one above is the only one that occured to me from that great Gene Autry classic, "I'm back in the saddle again, back where a friend is a friend" For those of you who don't know who Gene Autry is,don't be concerned--you aren't missing much--
After the 90+ degree heat of California--the brisk 40 degrees of Barrow is comfortable--refreshing really--The ice has moved offshore, we've got open water for small boats to go out hunting and fishing, not much sometimes only 50 -100 yards, but the boats are out there, the caribou are starting to move north and one of the bear guards said that either he or his brother(i forget which) had shot 5 the previous day. they are out on the BEO (Barrow Environmental Observatory) where a lot of the plant and bird people do their research. The caribou move north to escape the flies and mosquitos. I was talking to Lauren and she had pictures of the offal that the hunters had left from the caribou, and mentioned that they were trying to use some of it to feed Snowy Owl hatchlings that they are banding and monitoring.
I met up with Frank Kelley when I got off the plane on Wednesday, he is the Polar Trec teacher from Vermont who will be with us until the end of the field season, he is posting a journal at under Nuvuk Archaeology, the previous teacher, Elizabeth Eubaks was here for the previous month and her journal is interesting also--she has really nice pictures of birds if that is your thing(Sarah and Doug) Her journal is listed under Tundra Dynamics. Her last day was yesterday so about 20 of us went to Pepe's for dinner.
The night before the whole 10 of us went to dinner at Osaka's and on the way in this older Native Alaskan, pulled up next to us in a pickup truck, rolled down the window and asked "you guys wanta buy some baleen?" Most baleen is pure black with grainy lines in it, it is basically keratin(sp) like hair or fingernails, so after establishing the price, I bought one of the 2 pieces he had. 5' long and about 6" wide at the base, AND it is black with a pearlized whitish layer on top. The deal is that it has to be signed by an alaskan native to be legal, and this guy did not have a scribe with him and neither did we, but ANY alaskan native can sign it and that makes it legal for export, I'll have one of the bear guards or one of the kids sign it--
Spring/Summer is here in Barrow with plants desperately tryng to flower and reproduce before they get frozen again. Denver, the Snowy Owl guy, has been trapping lemmings and dissecting them to get an idea of the lemming reproduction rate, as it relates to how well the owl chicks will do--more on that later, Frank and I may go out with him next weekend to help--
pictures this time are not that dramatic, one small ice bit that is clinging to the shore at the point and some of the flowers that have been poking up--

Bye for now--

Sunday, June 29, 2008